After a turbulent 9-9 overall start with a 1-4 conference record, it seemed like Wisconsin’s season was spiraling out of control and its streak of 14 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances would be spoiled.
Five games later and now the Badgers (6-4 Big Ten, 14-9 Overall) are on the NCAA Tournament radar, as they are currently listed as one of the “First Four Out” teams according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
With full momentum behind its back, UW has an attractive home matchup Wednesday against Nebraska (5-6, 13-11) and will look to extend its winning streak to six games.
The Cornhuskers come into Madison having lost three out of their past four games, and could be without senior forward Shavon Shields, who suffered a concussion after a nasty fall Saturday in a win over Rutgers. Shields is averaging 15.7 points per game this season, the second-highest total on the team.
With its 11-point win against Ohio State last Thursday, Wisconsin will look to continue to find success against a team that has been very mediocre on both sides of the ball this year.
The Cornhuskers rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in terms of scoring offense and scoring defense, ranking 7th and 10th, respectively.
Yet, this is not to say that Wednesday's matchup will be taken lightly. Wisconsin desperately needs to win all of its home matchups, as the Badgers have three looming road games against No. 2 Maryland, No. 8 Michigan State and No. 4 Iowa.
Led by balanced offensive scoring, free-throw opportunities and stout defense, the Badgers have transformed into a NCAA Tournament team in recent weeks and will continue to rely on junior forward Nigel Hayes down the home stretch.
The preseason All-American has looked very impressive and is averaging 21.8 points per game during UW’s current winning streak. He has nearly been unstoppable with his ability to draw fouls and with his smooth, high-arching jump shot. In times where the offense can’t get rolling, Hayes has been the one to go to.
After hitting a season-high 13 team 3-pointers against Ohio State, Wisconsin will look to exploit the Cornhuskers’ porous defense. Their squad ranks second-to-last in the conference in 3-point defense and allows nearly 40 percent of all 3-point attempts to fall in.
Certainly, Wisconsin has turned its season around for the moment, but the rollercoaster ride is far from over. To make it a smoother ride, however, UW will need to win this home matchup against a weaker conference opponent.
“I enjoy it and am having fun with it.” Wisconsin interim head coach Greg Gard said. "I didn’t know what to expect, but just go with it.”